A Real Wolf Conservation Plan

Wolf pup

What would a real wolf conservation plan look like for Oregon? Certainly not trophy hunting, more conflict, and more dead wolves. Unfortunately, that was the plan Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officials expected Oregon Wild and other conservation groups to approve this week. While we are still committed to fighting for our state’s fledgling wolf population, Oregon Wild and all our sister groups withdrew from this process rather than rubber stamp an ODFW wolf plan that prioritizes killing over conservation.

But it’s actually not that difficult to lay out a science-based conservation plan, building on what has already worked in Oregon, to recover these native animals. The results of such a plan would result in fewer dead livestock, fewer dead wolves, and a wildlife agency that is actually accountable to their conservation mission and the public.

Here are the pillars of what a system wide wolf conservation plan for Oregon would address:

  • No trophy hunting (including keeping the pelts of wolves killed), general hunting or trapping seasons, or deputizing members of the public to kill wolves.
  • Increase penalties for wolf poaching and funding for enforcement. Consider legislative reform including closing loopholes for wildlife crimes like ending the McKittrick Policy (allows a poacher to avoid any penalties for killing a wolf if they claim they thought it was a coyote). Include language that makes addressing poaching as significant a priority as addressing claims of livestock loss.
  • Only “count” predations for livestock operations employing sufficient and demonstrated non-lethal conflict deterrents to prevent conflict.  Killing wolves should be a last resort when other measures fail, not a reward for poor livestock management.
  • Create a threshold for when state-sanctioned wolf killing can occur that allows non-lethal measures time to work and makes killing an option of last resort.
  • Increased and timely public transparency including for what non-lethal techniques are being deployed, including making details of what non-lethal techniques have been tried public before kill permits can be issued.
  • Direct funding to independent, credible scientists (not agriculture and livestock organizations) to conduct Oregon-based studies of carnivore behavior and ecology that can help reduce conflict and inform management decisions.
  • Close loopholes in the state compensation program, including those that give payouts for cows grazing illegally and reward bad record keeping, and audit the program biannually to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.   Compensation should be tied to livestock operations implementing meaningful efforts to prevent future conflict with wolves.
  • No use of taxpayer-provided equipment (telemetry, ATV's, etc.) may be used for wolf hunting by citizens.
  • No killing wolves for eating deer and elk, their natural prey.  Habitat loss from logging, off-road vehicles, and livestock, together with poaching, pose a vastly greater threat to deer and elk than wolves.
  • Investigations into livestock predation and other consequential decisions should only be made by independent experts without conflicts of interest. Final decisions approved by independent ODFW staff.

Unfortunately, this vision is not what ODFW has in mind.

The Friday before Christmas, the wildlife agency released their proposed revisions to the Oregon Wolf Plan. The document was shocking. After months of discussion on a variety of issues through a professional facilitator, ODFW drafted a document that rejected each and every suggestion made by conservation groups and scientists, and instead draft a plan to give themselves more money, less public accountability, and more power to kill wolves, even through trophy hunting and trapping.  With just over 120 known wolves in the wild in Oregon, it is ridiculous for the agency to promote hunting and trapping!

It became clear to Oregon Wild’s representatives that ODFW had manipulated this stakeholder process to their advantage, jumping between the role of neutral observer, primary stakeholder, and decision maker as it benefited them. The narrow array of discussion topics allowed them to navigate to a wolf plan that gave them more money and more power to kill wolves, with less science, less public oversight and fewer standards. The end point was predetermined.

Oregon Wild and all our conservation partners withdrew from the process. We will not cease advocating for wolves, but we would also not be party to rubber stamping the agency’s request for more money and more wolf killing with less public accountability. Barring changes to the wolf plan process, our advocacy will need to turn to other avenues to help Oregon’s small wolf population.

Here are some of the things you can do to help!

  • Attend a Wild Ones training to hone your advocacy skills
    (upcoming trainings in Portland and Eugene)
  • Participate in Oregon Wildlife Lobby Day in Salem February 21st
  • Write a letter to the editor to your local paper supporting wolf conservation and a more accountable wildlife agency
  • Testify at the Fish and wildlife Commission on the wolf plan (likely March 15th in Salem, but more details to follow)
  • Call Governor Kate Brown at 503-378-4582 and leave a message urging her to nominate conservation-minded individuals to the Fish and Wildlife Commission (who don’t have a financial conflict of interest)